It's the quiet one-on-one talks with students that bring so much meaning to my work. One day a student (Jackie) raised her hand and asked to come over to my desk. Once seated, she began by saying, "Jeremy lives with me now." The morning task of giving the lesson plan one last look over; writing "A" or "P" on the attendance sheet and addressing questions simultaneously came to a halt. "What Jeremy? We don't have a Jeremy in the class," I responded. Jackie pointed to a former occupied seat and said, "I mean the Jeremy that used to sit over there. He lives with me now." "I'm confused," I said with a furrowed brow. "Why is he living with you?" "He was homeless, and I couldn't take it anymore," she responded.
Reflecting back, I recalled that Jeremy's demeanor had changed the last few days of class, and even his grades had taken a dip, but he never mentioned his housing situation when I spoke to him confidentially saying, "Jeremy, I don't know what you're going through, but you've done all this work. You've come too far to quit. Jeremy had only responded, "You're right," Ms. Lawson. "I'm not going to quit." He finished the Human Services Assistant course and transitioned into his internship just a few days later.
Now, Jackie was telling me that Jeremy had given some money to a friend of a friend for an apartment, but the person had taken Jeremy's money and disappeared. This left Jeremy without any other recourse than to live out of his car.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing, although we hear about these things all the time. Once again, I realized the importance of my role as a confidante to some of my students in some situations. I am unequipped to provide solutions for all of the harsh life situations that many of my students face, and generally they don't expect me to have the answers. Still, experience has taught me that when disadvantaged adults walk into the classroom, they want many of the same things that I want: to be treated with dignity and respect; empathy for difficult situations and active listening from supportive others. In the end, it's all about our class mantra: people helping people.
I looked at Jackie sitting at my desk smiling. I said to her, "I am so proud of you." Her decision to help another may have saved a life. It certainly added value and meaning to hers, and I was all the richer just by hearing about her heroic deed.
It was the size of her generosity that sparked a flame within me to share this story with others. I believe victory stories brighten our own inner torch as providers to disadvantaged groups. When there is a light, you can't hide under a bushel.
A few days later, Jackie brought in boiled chicken gizzards sautéed in olive oil with peppers and other spices on top of savory white rice. She had cooked for the entire class. I just shook my head and thought, "Yea, that's the quality of a human services student."
Margaret Lawson is the instructor of ICD's Human Services Assistant training program.